Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Take 2--Pawn Stars, Rare Books, Sir Isaac Newton, History of Science, Geology, Agricola

My copy of John Harrison's, The Library Of Isaac Newton , arrived yesterday after being freshly printed in Tennessee on February 3, 2011 (in this case a good example of the value of print on demand!).  With the insight provided by Harrison's study of Newton's Library I would like to add a little more information to my post of February 1, Pawn Stars, Rare Books, Sir Isaac Newton, History of Science, Geology, Agricola

I still agree that the copy of Agricola's 1546 book, De Ortu et Causis Subterraneorum, purchased by the Pawn Stars, is from Newton's personal library but I am now much less confident that the annotations in the manuscript were made by Newton. 

The shelf marking on the inside cover do confirm that this copy was part of the Musgrave Catalog published in 1767 (the work was not listed in the quickly assembled Huggins List from 1727 created shortly after Newton's death).  I also feel confident that the specialist who looked at the handwriting was simply wrong in stating that Newton did not write in tiny script, as the example below shows he certainly did!

Newton's Notes in Howard, Copernicus of all sorts, convicted....1705 (no. 810)
From page 17, Harrison, The Library of Isaac Newton, Cambridge University Press, 2008

Script size aside, from what I have learned from Harrison, I seriously doubt the annotations were in Newton's hand.  My guess is that a previous owner annotated the manuscript prior to Newton's acquisition of it.  Newton owned only three books on mineralogy, all by Argicola.  The other two books, one held by the University of Wisconsin and one by Trinity College, Cambridge, do not have any annotations. Newton's copy of De re Metallica, 1621 is noted as showing "some signs of dog earring."  De re Metallica was Agricola's masterpiece and that makes me doubt Newton would be motivated to carefully study the earlier, 1546 publication.  Harrison also notes that of the 1,763 books he catalogued only 84 were verified to be annotated by Newton.  This leads me to conclude that the annotations in the 1546 manuscript are not in Newton's hand.

Before the appearance on Pawn Stars, that last known mention of this rare book was a listing in the Thame Park Auction of 1920, buyer unknown.  The catalog markings need to be studied more carefully as they do tell a story about the history of the book once it left the Newton estate.  Perhaps the Pawn Stars could post a photocopy of the front matter along with copies of the annotated pages! 

I do hope that De Ortu et Causis Subterraneorum will be acquired by Trinity College, for a fair price, and be added to the largest single collection of books from Newton's library. 

1 comment:

  1. I know something about this book and where it has been over the last 15 or so years. Happy to respond to an email from TC if they want to hear more. Bruce Whiteman.